The message of Sinop

‘Kurdistan does not exist!’ When you write about the Kurdish issue, now and then Turks feel the need to tell you with exclamation marks that a place called ‘Kurdistan’ doesn’t exist. Not only when I use the term – which I don’t do so often – but also just randomly. Sometimes, I take the trouble to answer that countries are not only defined by official borders, and that Kurdistan definitely does exist in the hearts, minds and dreams of many Kurds. Since this week’s events in the Black Sea Coast cities of Sinop and Samsun, I think it even exists in the minds of nationalist Turks. Unconsciously but unmistakably.

Ultra-nationalists destroy a BDP car in Sinop, 18 February 2013.

What happened in Sinop and Samsun? The BDP went there on a tour to explain the ongoing ‘peace process’ to the people. The Black Sea region is known to be very nationalist, so for sure there is some work to be done there to convince the people that talking to the PKK is necessary to reach peace in Turkey. What happened in Sinop, however, was a nine hour siege of the building where the BDP was meeting by a group that eventually grew to some eight hundred ultra-nationalists.

They destroyed cars belonging to the BDP members, threw stones at the building and tried to enter it. It lasted for hours and hours, the police not really taking action till it was already dark. Only then tear gas and water cannons were used to disperse the crowd. After a similar thing happened the next day in Samsun, the BDP cancelled the rest of the tour.


If you ask nationalists what they have against Kurds, they will tell you it is not Kurds that they have a problem with, but terrorists. They will even say with great passion that ‘Turks and Kurds are brothers’. Their perception of brotherhood is that Turks and Kurds are essentially the same, sharing the same religion, history and values. If a Turkish nationalist has a Kurd as a close relative (which is often the case, since there have always been marriages between Turks and Kurds), they will never hesitate to tell you. It’s an example of the ‘social fusion’ they want in Turkey and that they of course contribute to.

In this world view, Kurds can never demand anything based on their identity. That is against the social fusion and therefore considered ‘separatism’, an attack on the sacred unity of Turkey, symbolized by the PKK. Anybody sharing the demands of the PKK, supporting the PKK, or not condemning it, is seen as a terrorist. This is reflected in the slogans used in Sinop as well. Not ‘We don’t want Kurds in Sinop’, but ‘Sinop doesn’t want the PKK’.

From outer space

Is nationalism only strong in the Black Sea region? Of course not. Nationalism is still the state ideology of Turkey. Every political party, except the BDP, separates the Kurdish issue from the existence of the PKK. The AKP is now talking to Öcalan, but they are still ‘fighting terrorism’ by continuous bombings of PKK camps in the Kandil mountains. An ultra-nationalist would even say that the PKK has nothing to do with Kurds at all, that they are just ‘terrorists’ – as if they come from outer space.

That’s why I resent commentators who ask whether it was smart of the BDP to go to the Black Sea region. ‘They should have expected this’, they state. I’d like to ask a counter question. Where could the BDP go safely? Where would Turks be open to listen to their story? Antalya? Denizli? Bursa? Konya? Nevsehir? Of course not. Turks have been raised and indoctrinated with state nationalism for almost a century now. Whether you vote AKP, MHP or CHP essentially doesn’t make a difference. If the BDP comes to any of these cities explaining their vision of peace (read more here about what peace means), including regional autonomy, they risk their safety.

Visionary speeches

The so called ‘wide support’ for the also – sorry – so called ‘peace process’, is very superficial. Turkey supports the idea of the PKK laying down its arms, without grasping fully what will be needed before that will ever happen. Without even the willingness to listen to the Kurdish movement’s view. And if the BDP doesn’t come and explain, who will? Did Erdogan start a tour to all corners of the country making visionary speeches about a peaceful Turkey with equality and freedom for all?

The Kurdish political movement is just not supposed to cross borders, and that is the message of Sinop. They are tolerated as long as they speak in south-eastern cities like Diyarbakir, Hakkari, Elazig and Van, and for Kurds-only audiences in Istanbul, Izmir, Mersin and Adana. They should never think they can go one step further. The nationalist message, not only of the gang in Sinop but also of commentators who blame the BDP for what happened there, is: go back to where you came from. To the Kurdistan unconsciously existing in nationalist minds.

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